A radical kind of brand activism
There is always time for a first when it comes to CEO Activism. First we had the CEOs in opposition to the anti LGBT laws in 2016. Then we had CEOs against the Trump ban on immigration. Then we had the advertisers pulling ads from Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, a favorite station of the president’s. And most recently some CEOs protested against the climate change withdrawal from the Paris Accord. All of these are part of an evolution of how business is being held accountable to corporate values and standing up for principles that are the foundation of corporate behavior. Then this week we saw the Reebok “flow chart” which criticizes President Trump’s comment about what great shape French President Macron’s wife is in during the presidential visit to Paris and Reebok jumps on this ill-advised statement to say that they take offense. After all Reebok is all about the women’s fitness market. Reebok’s statement about why they did it was reported in AdWeek: “Reebok first came on the scene with women’s fitness, and today we are committed to helping change the narrative around women. We saw this as an opportunity—as a learning moment. Instead of judging or labeling, let’s raise the bar and push for progress. Let’s celebrate each other and commit to being the best version of ourselves. Let’s ‘Be More Human.’
The flow chart is very clever, something I’d expect to see in the New Yorker. I cannot think of another example where a company scolds a sitting president. I’d have to say that Reebok’s action may set a new bar for radical brand activism. It certainly put Reebok on the other side of the red line. Jena McGregor of the Washington Post wrote an interesting piece on the Reebok critique which is worth reading for more analysis on perhaps why it might not be so unlikely for the sports retail industry to speak out.